Aaron Duke finished with the match ball under his arm and manager’s advice ringing in his ears on Tuesday night after firing three goals past Ballyclare Comrades.
The 23-year-old forward kicked off his season’s tally at Shamrock Park with a Bluefin Sport Championship treble as the perfect response to a weekend blank in the derby draw at Loughgall.
In an early-season oddity, the three leading scorers in the Championship standings each have Portadown connections - with Duke sharing the spotlight alongside two former Ports forwards in Loughgall’s Nathaniel Ferris and Michael McLellan of Ards.
Duke is determined to maintain his momentum at the centre of Portadown’s promotion push, with his manager’s constant pursuit of progress a welcome extra incentive.
“I always target finishing a season with more goals than appearances so it is great to sit with three in two games and especially in front of the home fans for the first time this campaign,” said Duke. “Portadown is my club and when I came back in last season it was an easy decision to make.
“Matthew gave me a chance and to work under a manager with his reputation as a coach and past record as a manager can only improve me on a personal level and it’s a win-win.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go down to come up and I know people have doubted me in the past but I’m 23 years old, hungry to learn and it is great to be playing and scoring goals at this level and being pushed in that way.
“Matthew was here as a player during my previous spell at Portadown and we were also together at Linfield, so he’s been a great help over a number of years.
“Then someone like Trevor Williamson has been offering advice and around since I was a boy and people like that played a big part in my decision to come back to Portadown.”
Duke’s roster of clubs covers a contrast from full-time football at Dundee United to Mid-Ulster league level with Rectory Rangers.
“My last hat-trick before Tuesday was probably for Rectory and before that I remember three in the Bob Radcliffe Cup final a few years back when at Dollingstown,” said Duke. “To come back to Portadown last season was a massive opportunity and I grew up watching and learning from great Ports strikers like Gary Hamilton, Vinny Arkins and Kevin Braniff.
“I’ve the number 10 shirt now and am playing under a manager who is always looking more from me and looking me not just to score goals but to tick every box.
“I’ve know Adam Salley a long time, back to when we were together at reserve level with Linfield, so it is great playing alongside him as part of a two-man strikeforce.
“It suits the Championship and we know how to work together and know we must work hard so, hopefully, it comes together to help the team.
“I’m off the mark now for the season and we’ve another target this weekend to get a good result in front of the home fans when Ballinamallard United come to Shamrock Park.”